Your Picks for Durham's Next Mayor and Council

October 29, 2021 7:00am
By Leigh Tauss
Durham, NC Correspondent

Some incumbents seem poised to coast to victory.

The results are in!

Thank you kindly to the folks who took the time to fill out this first survey. While this is a small sample size–which I’m hoping will grow over the weeks to come–it does give key insight into the mindset of our most informed voters’ heading into the election next week.

If your answers are any indicator, this election could see an easy win for some incumbents and a tighter race for newcomers to council. 

Let’s break it down!

In the mayor’s race, which is uncontested after Javiera Caballero suspended her campaign after the primary, Elaine O’Neal seems to have an unobstructed path to becoming Durham’s next mayor. About 70 percent of you agree, however it was interesting that 30 percent of you still back Caballero. 

I think the explanation could be found in the candidates' approach to public safety, which has become a major issue in Durham given the recent spree of shootings. Caballero came out and said she “wholeheartedly” believes in defunding the police. While that may have rallied Durham’s more progressive circles, it likely alienated her from more middle-of-the-road voters. O’Neal, on the other hand, wanted to work on reforms from within the police department by establishing an Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

My guess is those holding out for Cabarello fall onto the “defund” side of the argument and the majority prefer O’Neal’s less radical approach. 

In the Ward 1 and 2 races, incumbents DeDreana Freeman and Mark-Anthony Middletown look like they’ll easily hold onto their seats. Both candidates are fairly popular in their districts, especially Middleton who got the support of 84 percent of poll responders. My read is that folks are generally happy with the council’s current direction and aren’t looking to shake things up too much.

Judging by your answers, the most contentious race on the ballot is going to be hte Ward 3 race. Pierce Freelon, who was appointed to the seat in 2020, chose not to run for reelection, meaning there are no incumbents running. The newcomers vying for the seat both have deep ties to the community. Leonardo Williams is the co-owner of Zweli’s and a two-time Teacher of the Year. AJ Williams is a grassroots organizer that has been on the frontlines of the debate over the future of policing in the city. 

Both are progressive candidates who would make fine additions to the council. Fifty-seven percent of you backed Williams, but my suspicion is that come election day, this will be the closest race to watch.

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